Senate District 25
Bixby Mayor Brian Guthrie, left, and Rep. Jeff Boatman are running in the Republican primary for the open Senate District 25 seat in 2024. (NonDoc)

With Sen. Joe Newhouse choosing not to run for a third term, a House of Representatives member from Tulsa and Bixby’s mayor are vying for the Republican nomination for the open Oklahoma State Senate District 25 seat.

Rep. Jeff Boatman (R-Tulsa), who was elected to the House in 2018, has a business background in the telecommunications and information technology sector.

“It’s always a little bit of a challenge trying to campaign when you’re an incumbent, just because, you know, especially like this year, we had the session that ran so late, you know,” Boatman, 56, said. “Six years in the House, absolutely loved it. Just feel like there’s some work I can do over on the Senate side of that. You know, it’s always easier to get your legislation advanced in your chamber, and there’s some things I really want to try to help get moved through the Senate, so I absolutely, I’m looking forward to some years over there.”

Guthrie, 45, said the redistricting of SD 25 after the 2020 census along with Newhouse’s decision not to seek reelection compelled him to run for the Senate seat.

“The district, from the census, had been changed, all the lines had moved, and it included every bit of Bixby and then plus south Tulsa,” he said. “And I’ve been on the Bixby City Council now for 12 1/2 years, so it just seemed to be a good fit and a good time for me as well. And I really wanted to bring a conservative voice for the people of District 25.”

The winner of the June 18 GOP primary will face retired educator and Democrat Karen Gaddis, who has run for the Legislature several times and served one term in House District 75 from 2017-2018, in the Nov. 5 general election.

A commander in the Navy Reserve, Newhouse (R-Tulsa) announced in August that he would not be seeking reelection. He was first elected in 2016 and ran opposed in 2020.

“Serving in our Oklahoma Legislature has been both rewarding and demanding, and I’m grateful to my constituents who entrusted me to represent them,” Newhouse said.

Senate District 25 covers Bixby, south Tulsa and parts of Jenks and Glenpool. For the June 18 primary election, polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Senate District 25 mailers turn negative, homophobic

Like the weather, the campaign has heated up in the waning days, as mailers from both sides have been sent out criticizing their opponents.

Mailers paid by various political action committees are labeling Guthrie as a big spender and alleging that he raised taxes as mayor.

“The attacks on me are not true,” Guthrie said. “A mayor does not have the power to raise taxes. That power only lies with a vote of the people.”

In return, mailers authorized by Friends of Brian Guthrie for Senate 2024 alleged Boatman promoted a transgender agenda using taxpayer resources. It alluded that Boatman supported a trans-affirming care hotline, nonbinary grooming handbooks and “a grooming hotline to kids as young as 13 years old.”

Boatman said the ads are referring to a statement he and several Republican House members issued through the House of Representatives communications and public affairs office after the death of Nex Benedict earlier this year as GOP lawmakers faced criticism for anti-LGBTQ rhetoric and running bills targeted at the trans community.

The state’s medical examiner’s office ruled the 16-year-old nonbinary Owasso High School student died from an overdose, and the lawmakers said in their statement that they were reminding the public that anyone feeling suicidal or experiencing thoughts of suicide should contact 988 or 911 immediately. They also listed contact information for the Trevor Project, which offers crisis support for LGBTQ young people, because research has shown that suicide rates among LGBTQ youth are significantly higher than among the general population.

“They have turned that into, ‘He’s given the number out to groom them,'” Boatman said. “It’s just been a little bit ridiculous. Again, it was a suicide prevention hotline, and I think if you look at my voting record, I’ve not been a big supporter of LGBTQ initiatives (…) I mean, I’m pretty consistent on the voting record there. But we’re talking about kids thinking about committing suicide. You’ve got to help them whether you agree with them or not.”

Boatman said the mailers attempt “to score cheap political points” and that he would “stand firm and show the love and compassion of Christ to vulnerable teenagers in our state.”

“I just don’t think we ought to use vulnerable kids for this,” he said. “I think that they shouldn’t be political pawns, and I hate to see that being done so I responded pretty strongly.”

Boatman posted a message on his campaign Facebook page stating his position: “I am Christian, and I hold a biblical view of gender. I believe God created us male and female and my voting record clearly shows that I have fought back against the radical gender ideology of the left.”

Guthrie said he approved the mailers.

“Yeah, it came out of my campaign committee,” he said. “Mr. Boatman issued a press release urging LGBTQ individuals contemplating suicide to contact the Trevor Project, which is known to be a ‘pedophile paradise,’ also known to be a grooming website that has a chat room for 13-year-olds up to 24-year-olds, and you don’t know who you’re talking to. (…) Instead of sending them to like 988, he decided he wanted to add the Trevor Project on there to send them to, which is just a grooming website, well known for that. And that’s something he shouldn’t be doing.”

Stitt endorses Guthrie in Senate District 25 bid

On his campaign website, Boatman, who earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration from the University of Tulsa, highlights his conservative values and his business background over 30 years in the telecommunications and information technology sectors. He also has a campaign Facebook page. He started in telecommunications and became involved in financial services in 2003. He left working full-time in financial services in late 2019.

“We dabble with investments and small business stuff but for the most part, for the last six years, I’ve just been focused on public service and putting in the time doing that, Boatman said. “May go back and do something somewhere down the road, but for right now — they call the Legislature a part-time gig, but if you really want to engage and really serve the district, this is a pretty full-time commitment. So I’ve just taken the last few years and focused on doing this.”

According to his campaign website, Guthrie got involved in politics in 2011 He was initially appointed to a vacant seat on the Bixby City Council, then was elected to three consecutive council terms. Within a few years, his peers on the council elected him mayor. Guthrie is now serving his fifth year as mayor.  The Bixby City Council and mayor are unpaid, volunteer positions.

During his tenure as mayor, Guthrie led the city through the historic flood in 2019, where he worked closely with Gov. Kevin Stitt and other elected officials to make sure south Tulsa County residents had the help they needed.

On June 6, Stitt announced he was endorsing Guthrie for the SD 25 seat. Stitt called Guthrie “a true conservative businessman.”

“Brian backed our police and cleaned up crime. Bixby now ranks as one of America’s safest cities,” Stitt said. “Brian’s pro-business agenda led to a 43 percent economic boom in the Bixby and south Tulsa area, adding 1,000-plus new jobs and attracting $100 million in investments.”

Stitt also planned to attend a fundraiser at Guthrie’s house June 15. Guthrie has included several mentions of that and other endorsements on his campaign Facebook page.

Guthrie said he started working in the construction business when he was 18 and went to Tulsa Community College at night and earned an associate’s degree in business. He eventually owned his own construction company and specialized in real estate flipping, a strategy that involves buying, renovating and selling properties for a profit.

“We just finally decided we didn’t want to sell any of them, so we just started buying rental properties, and we’ve been buying rental properties for the last 20 years, and it’s been very, very lucrative for us,” he said. “I got out of the construction industry and just got in real estate full time, became a manager for McGraw Realtors, one of the largest companies here in Tulsa, and then left there in 2016, opened my own brokerage with my wife, Wendi, and Wendi quit nursing and came to work with me full time.”

Drummond backing Boatman in Senate District 25 race

Speaking of endorsements, Boatman recently picked up the support of the Oklahoma Medical Political Action Committee. Reviewed by a bipartisan committee of physicians from throughout Oklahoma, Boatman was selected according to his support of medicine-related issues.

Similarly, Attorney General Gentner Drummond also endorsed Boatman on June 14. Drummond said Boatman has “continuously battled” President Joe Biden’s administration to uphold Oklahoma laws that protect the state’s children from radical gender indoctrination and that “Jeff has been a true friend and ally in this critical fight, and Oklahoma needs his continued leadership.”

“Representative Boatman and I also have worked together to crack down on human trafficking and I have seen Jeff’s incredible passion to protect the most vulnerable among us,” Drummond said. “Jeff is a man of faith and integrity and we can always count on him to protect our values.”

Both candidates support lowering state income tax rate

As a House member, Boatman said he was disappointed the Senate this year didn’t take up proposals to lower the state’s income tax rate.

“You know, we sent over a few options of ways that we could give some money back to taxpayers. I certainly think we should,” he said. “We’ve got great reserves as a state now, and we’re not likely to end up in a situation where we have a sustained dip that we can’t finance out of reserves. So, I think it’s time to give some of that back. (…) There’s a lot of ways to do it, whether you take a quarter of a point off the top or whether you flatten out the brackets and bring up a standard deduction so that you’re doing it off the bottom,” Boatman said. “I would lean more toward that than off the top, just because it’s more predictable. It helps the, you know, lower-wage earners more, but it helps all Oklahomans because you’re not paying taxes on that first $25,000, $30,000 worth of income.”

Guthrie also said he would support lowering the income tax rate.

“Well, I’m a supporter of getting the income tax down to zero as much as possible, and we’re going to have to do that,” he said. “We can’t do it all at once, but we can do it at a graduated scale, and maybe that’s triggered by so much money is in the Rainy Day Fund (the state’s savings account). As our state grows and the Rainy Day Fund grows, then, yes, I think we should start lowering the income tax.”

However, the Rainy Day Fund — officially called the Constitutional Reserve Fund — is governed by a prescribed cap that can only increase if tax collections in the General Revenue Fund increase.

Immigration a main concern for Guthrie, Boatman

Guthrie said illegal immigration is one of the main issues constituents talk to him about as he knocks on doors.

“We’ve got just a wide-open border, and we’ve got to do something,” he said. “And if the federal government is not going to do something, then the states are going to have to. I can promise you [illegal immigrants are] coming to our state. The southern border is not that far, Texas is the only state between Oklahoma and the border. I don’t know exactly where they’re going, but I can promise you they’re in our towns, they’re in our state, and some may just come in for the American dream, which I understand, but some may be coming for other intentions, and that’s what scares everybody.”

Boatman said he was proud to vote for House Bill 4156, which fines and jails migrants who are in the state without legal documentation. The new law faces a pair of federal lawsuits, however.

“I think that piece of legislation was important for two reasons. No. 1, it gives law enforcement another tool. If they encounter somebody that’s breaking the law, here’s one more tool that we have to counteract that,” he said. “The other thing that it does is our federal government just isn’t doing a good job with immigration. I mean, I’m all for a legal immigration system that’s functional, and we want people to come to our country. We want them to legally come over and be here, and I think that the federal government needs to see that if they’re not going to take action, the states are going to have to, and so I think the bill was important for those two reasons.”

Education issues also top of mind

Boatman said during the six years he has been in the Legislature, lawmakers have appropriated a record amount of funding for the state’s public schools. But a lot of attention has been focused on the actions of State Superintendent of Public Instruction Ryan Walters.

“Your local district should be able to maintain how they do their hiring, what they’re picking as curriculum and how they’re working,” he said. “But our constitution does say that that state school board needs to regulate and has the responsibility for that.”

Boatman said he was “encouraged” early during the 2024 session when Walters met with legislative leaders.

“He had some great ideas on some ways of trying to gather data and analyze outcomes,” Boatman said. “I think, coming from business, the old mantra is if you can’t measure it, you can’t fix it. When I listen to education experts, there’s a lot of disagreement on how we measure education outcomes. The A to F report card has some strong critics, a standardized test has some strong critics. We just need to figure out some metrics and ways of measuring outcomes and seeing what’s going on in a successful district.”

Guthrie said residents he’s talked to in the district are concerned about what is happening in Oklahoma’s public schools.

“Well, I think people are concerned about their kids getting indoctrinated in the public school system,” Guthrie said. “I would probably just say Ryan Walters was elected by the people to do a certain job. I think he’s doing the job that they elected him to do. And so, if people are upset with him, they’ll have a chance to vote again, I’m sure when he runs again.”